Morin on TV
TBS's 1989
"$1,000 Challenge"
test of
local "psychic"
Joan Morin
Morin test

On Saturday, July 22, 1989, with inspirational hymns playing softly in the background at her Spiritual Center Church, Pinellas Park "psychic" Joan Morin sat in meditation, establishing the crucial link between her mind and the spirit saint who guides her through her performances of psychic powers. Years of reliable information from this inner voice have convinced Morin, and her church peers, that not only is she psychic, but the most psychic among many such gifted members of her congregation.

When given the word by Morin that all was in order, TBS Council member Terry Smiljanich began placing 23 tiny cardboard jewelry boxes before her. Morin had purchased the boxes for use in this test, and just prior to its onset, Smiljanich had placed an object in roughly half of them (facsimile dollar bills supplied by Morin, with Jesus' picture in place of George Washington's), leaving the rest empty. As the test was blinded, once Smiljanich closed the boxes and and mixed them around, no one in the room, unless psychic, could possibly have known which were which. One by one, Joan meditated, listened to the inner voice from her guiding saint, and declared each box either filled or empty (click here or on left graphic at top of page).

Once Morin had completed her task, the boxes were placed in labeled "baggies" which were then stapled securely to prevent any possibility of tampering. Before the test was officially concluded, Morin was allowed to meditate over the baggies, to be certain that there were no "filled" boxes sealed among those that were supposed to be "empty," or vice versa. After so doing, she explained that the feelings she received from the "empty" and "filled" baggies were so different that she was confident of success.

To save time and mental strain, Morin had made a late request that we change the test so as to use the fewest number of boxes necessary to achieve the odds required by TBS before certifying a performance as an apparently true psychic feat (+/- 10,000,000 to 1 by chance alone). As a result, Morin needed to get all 23 boxes correct to be so rewarded (1:2 chance of purely guessing whether or not a given box contained an object, taken to the 23rd power). We had previously agreed upon a format involving 100 boxes, which would have allowed Morin a 20% margin of error while still achieving similar odds.

The results of this first TBS "$1,000 Challenge" were unsealed at the press conference that immediately followed. The first baggie opened was labeled "Empty." The first box was removed from it. The lid was removed by Smiljanich, who tilted the box toward the spectators and cameras. The box contained a dollar bill. So did the second box.

All in all, of the 12 boxes declared "empty" by the saint, as interpreted by Morin through her "psychic" power, 6 were in fact empty, and 6 contained one of her own facsimile dollar bills. Of the 11 supposedly "filled" boxes, only 4 actually contained a bill.

Morin's 10-for-23 performance was well within the +/- 50% range expected from chance alone, and provided no evidence at all in favor of her claim of psychic power. Morin reluctantly agreed to the assembled spectators (including reporters) that she had failed to successfully demonstrate the "psychic" power that she knew she possessed.

But she soon changed her tune. During the September 5 "Eye on Tampa Bay" program (WTVT-TV 13, Tampa) on which TBS founder Gary Posner was a panelist, Morin, an invited member of the studio audience, claimed to have performed significantly better than chance, boasting of a "43% success" when anything "greater than 20%" (rather than 50%) would suggest psychic power at work (click here or on right graphic at top of page). I corrected her misimpression, but did not realize the source of her misinformation until the program was over. In the intervening six weeks, Morin had consulted with a fellow "psychic" who works with a standard, five-symbol ESP card deck (plus sign, minus sign, circle, square, wavy lines). Naturally, a "43% success" in a test involving such a deck, in which the chance of simply guessing the identity of any given card is 1:5 (20%), would be quite remarkable. But the odds of correctly guessing whether a box is empty or not (after having been informed that roughly half were empty) is 1:2, not 1:5.

In a letter published in the Fall 1989 issue of Tampa Bay Skeptics Report  (from which most of this article is taken), Morin had this to say:

This is a brief explanation of my interpretation of the outcome of the "$1,000 Challenge" taken by myself on July 22. I now believe that to be tested successfully, the situation needs to be a real-life happening in which there is a true need. I am sure that such a situation can be arranged and tested for. Creating an artificial situation was not the right thing to do. I wish to be tested again by TBS, and feel very confident that the next time the test will be successfully accomplished. I would like to thank Dr. Posner and TBS for the wonderful opportunity that was given to me, and for the chance to be tested again.

The following was Posner's published reply to Morin's letter:

Joan's excuse fails to explain her confidence during and immediately following the test, before the results were unveiled. At the time, she believed that she was in communication with the guiding saint whose voice she hears, and who is responsible for her "psychic" ability. Her comments above imply that either the saint did not participate as expected because of the artificial nature of the test (in which case the voice she heard was imaginary), or the saint played a practical joke on her by providing incorrect information approximately 50% of the time. A much more likely interpretation of events is that the test was  successfully accomplished, which would explain why the results were exactly as chance alone would account for. We are agreeable to a retest when Joan is ready . . .

Future attempts to engage Morin in a discussion about a retest were unsuccessful.

This article appeared in the Fall 1989 Tampa Bay Skeptics Report.

See these St. Petersburg Times articles from 7/20/89 and 7/23/89

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